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Ravens of Eternity

Chapter 19

19 Endurance, Pt By the six-hour mark, the cadets had started to feel exhaustion creep into their core. The sergeants had usually dismissed everyone and had them return to their bunk around this time.

But things were different, since they were in a practice sortie.

One of the cadets hailed the drill sergeants, his voice was dry and raspy. Though it wasn’t just because of thirst, but also out of fear.

“Sir, ma’am,” he said, “we cadets are pretty worn out and wish to request a break. Sir. Ma’am.”

The two sergeants took a moment to think before denying the request.

“Cadets!” yelled Sergeant Akim. “You will perform your drills for one more hour. And then we will see if you deserve to rest.”

Many cadets blanched, as they were already close to their physical limits. But they went through the maneuvers as best they could.

At the end of that hour, most truly were at the edges of their capabilities, and could barely hold on to their own controls. So, the sergeants called for a break.

“Drill sergeants,” said Eva over the open comms. “Permission to continue practice.”


“Squad leader Freya,” Sergeant Elyn replied, “aren’t you tired?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she replied, “I’m tired.”

“Don’t you want to rest?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Then proceed,” Elyn replied. “Everyone else... You should have four cycles worth of food in your core’s ration compartment. You’re hereby ordered to hold fast and re-energize yourselves.”

The cadets immediately dug into their rations. Inside the compartment were a handful of Mealbars and Hydropacks. The bars could be best described as filling and nutritional, but also tragically flavorless.

Not that it would have mattered. The less atmosphere there was, the less a person could taste things. So, in space, food was basically just a bunch of tasteless organic material. No amount of salt or chemicals could make it better, and there was no need to.

Pilots don’t need taste buds, only grit. At least, that’s what the packaging said.

The cadets had hoped that at least their rations would have given them some degree of creature comfort, but that too was stripped away from them.

It was a hard life, truly.

But during their grueling meal, they got to watch Eva do her drills. It completely amazed many of them, Chengli included.

They watched as she performed the same maneuver over and over and over again.

Like a goddamned machine, thought many.

They wondered what was going through her mind. Was she really just a perfectionist? Did she need to go through such a torturous process? She might have been tougher than everyone else, but it didn’t mean she didn’t tire or get hurt.

But Eva never let up, not even when she started to taste blood.

After the meal, the sergeants then told the cadets to continue resting, or even sleep if they could. The plan was to descend to the surface right before the end of the cycle.

The cramped little fighters weren’t made for comfort. Or, at least, comfort was one of the least considerations in their design. Though the seats automatically conformed to each pilot, they were still hard shells with very little padding.

More critically, they were so constricted that they could barely move. Very few people even wanted to be in such tight, cramped spaces, much less sleep in them.

The cadets were out like a light.


They were all woken an hour before the end of the cycle, and went back into formation before they headed back down to the planet.

After landing their fighters on the tarmac and doing their post-flight checks, the cadets all then started to head back to their bunk.

Suddenly, the sergeants blocked their path forward with stern looks on their faces.

“None of you were dismissed,” said Sergeant Elyn. “We’re still on a sortie!”

The already exhausted cadets found themselves frozen on the spot, and were unable to process what they had just heard.

Did they hear her right? Or was this some sort of prank? Or joke?

“Head to Bunker Seven on the double!” Sergeant Elyn continued. “Your mecha awaits.”

After hearing the word ‘mecha’, the cadets turned towards Eva to see her reaction.

But she was already gone.

When they arrived at the bunker a little later, they saw fifty mecha standing tall in their bays, chest armor and inner cores open. All ready and waiting.

Eva was somewhere in this forest of steel.

Although they were simple training mecha, their cool grey hue combined with their hard, beveled edges made them look tough and imposing. Each one was exactly the same shape and size: a 20 meter tall humanoid.

Every cadet was assigned their mecha, except Eva and Chengli’s mecha were a bit different. These two had a light blue chevron across the chest and back, which marked them as squad leaders.

A couple of the jealous cadets grumbled, but really couldn’t do anything about it. The others were congratulatory, but unsurprised. It was the alpha’s duty to lead the pack, and those two most certainly fit the requirements.

The two sergeants instructed the majority of the cadets, however Eva and Chengli were assigned the few problem cadets from before.

“Squad leaders,” said Sergeant Elyn, “you two are tasked with teaching the cadets under your care the basics of mechanized armor movement. This means they must have a fundamental understanding of all directions and all speeds by the end of the cycle.”

“Yes ma’am,” they replied.

“Squad leader Freya,” said Sergeant Akim, “you are not allowed to exhaust any cadets to death!”

She thought about it for a moment, and then nodded.


Everyone then got into their mecha, strapped in, and sealed up.

Lights danced across their eyes as their mechs’ control decks powered on. Their MFDs blinked awake and faded in. Readouts scrolled past as targeting systems calibrated.

Pilots gripped their controls.

Eva opened up the communications channel between herself, Chengli, and their cadets. They moved out of the bunker and out into the red plains just outside of the base.

As they traveled, Eva hailed the comms.

“Zhulong,” she said. “Do you know tai chi?”

Chengli was rather familiar with it. The exercise was one of the things that his grandparents used to do on a daily basis. Every morning, they would go out to the park across the street from their little home, and do the same tai chi exercise day after day.

Years and years, they had done this. That was how they grew as a couple. It was how they became strong enough to endure the harsh realities of life.

Whenever Chengli visited as a boy, he always watched them in awe and wonder. Sometimes he joined in. Clumsily, at times, but always mirthful and smiling.

Years later, when his grandfather passed, he often visited his grandmother to help ease her heart a little. In the mornings, he joined her for tai chi, where she wept silently.

Until one day, she too, passed.

“Yes,” he said, his throat dry.

“Good. I think we oughta do a dual training thing. Hard drills alternating with softer body exercises... Good idea, right?”

Chengli snapped out of his old memories and quickly nodded. It was a good idea. That would really help them all weather the next cycle. They were all already exhausted from the previous ten hours, and no way could they endure Eva’s brutal style.

Not for ten hours. Not even for two.

“The mighty Freya, afraid of one Sergeant Akim?” he teased.

“Nah,” she shook her head. “I just didn’t want to end up killing the cadets, like he said. Don’t they deny you a license if you end up causing training accidents?”

Since the comms were open, their cadets heard everything they said, and paled at her words. The way she said ‘accidents’ seriously implied she had no problems if they died! And she was only worried about her license?

What the hell?!

Eva then got them in formation and had them follow her movements, almost like an aerobics instructor. She did a move over and over, while the cadets did their best to follow. When they all were comfortable with the maneuver, she switched to a new one.

It was harsh, repetitive, and demanding. Their faces poured sweat, and their muscles burned. But they struggled through and persevered.

After an hour, they took a quick break before Chengli took over. He then instructed the same way that Eva did: he made movements and they followed. But the big difference was that his movements were powerful but graceful. It allowed the cadets to cool down but still train hard. Tai chi might have looked ‘soft’, but its effects were rather potent.

Their muscles didn’t burn, but their spirits felt stronger. They also slowly ingrained the defensive moves that tai chi offered. Combined with Eva’s maneuvers, these cadets were shaping up to be truly formidable.

After an hour of that, they ate some of their food, and repeated the pattern two more times. All the while, Eva and Chengli openly bantered in their open comms.

“Freya,” said Chengli, “your form’s really sloppy, you know that? We’ve been through so many lessons now, and yet you’re still so hopeless.”

“Pfft,” she teased back. “Maybe if I had a better teacher, I’d be in better shape. And why’re you looking at my ‘form’ in the first place, hm?”

“Only because I’m forced to,” He feigned a sigh. “I’m willing to suffer it to receive my license.”

“Mhm. Those eyes say differently. I’d say they look mighty hungry.”

“A dragon does have his appetites. I won’t deny that.”

“Oh, is that what you’re calling little Zhulong? A dragon?”

The cadets couldn’t believe it. These two were flirting openly during training! They were treating this whole thing like it was happening in their living room. Unbelievable!

First they had to beat themselves to death with Eva’s maneuvers, and now they had to listen to two perfect people flirt with each other.


For hours!

The things they had to put up with...

The jealous cadet’s thoughts turned dark, and they ate at him for quite some time. Eva was strong, tough, smart, and did as she pleased. She tortured all of them with pure physical punishment, and even shoved her sexuality in their faces.

He just couldn’t take it anymore. He was going to be sure to take her down a notch. And he had enough friends to help him do just that.

At the seventh hour of the cycle, everyone was hailed by the sergeants and ordered to return to the bunker. They did so without hesitation – they needed a break!

“Sortie’s completed,” said Sergeant Elyn. “You’re all dismissed. Now head back to your bunk and rest up!”

All of the cadets were wiped out and barely made it back to their bunk. On the way, they stuffed their faces as best they could with the rations they had left. When they reached the bunk, most simply collapsed on their beds.

Some were still in mid-chew even as they started snoring.

Even Eva took a break and stayed in.

They all weathered a great deal these past two cycles, and deserved a little rest.

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